“Kongunadu’s history is about 15,000 years old. For thousands of years, however, people who documented the history of Tamil Nadu failed to make a mention of our history in texts due to lack of resources. It was only after the 1940s that books on Kongunadu were written.” Dr. R. Poongundran opened his talk on ‘Trade and Trade Routes in Kongu History’ organised by The Vanavarayar Foundation as part of its monthly lecture series on history and culture of this region.
Poongundran, former assistant director of State Archaeology Department, now researches inscriptions for Mozhi Trust, a centre for resource development in language and culture.
Archeological treasure trove
The history of Kongunadu dates back to fifth century B.C. said Poongundran. Kongunadu fell on the trade route of Greeks and Romans who would travel through this region to Madurai, Uraiyur and other places in the south.
“About 80 per cent of the Roman coins excavated in India were found in Kongunadu, especially in areas such as Vellalore, Kanayampuththur, Karur, Sulur, Anaimalai and Pollachi,” said Poongundran. Semi-precious stones such as sapphire, quartz, carnelian, agate and lapis-lazuli were also found in places such as Kodumanal (Erode district) and Thandigudi. “Kodumanal was an important industrial site. It facilitated trade relations between India and the West. ”
He added that excavated lapis-lazuli indicated the trade relations between Kodumanal and Afghanistan, where the precious stone was mined. “About 150 lapis beads were found during an excavation in Kodumanal. During the Indus Valley civilization, many colonies were established around these lapis sites,” he explained.
Karur too flourished as an important trade centre. Coins and jewellery used to be made here. The Moovendar (Cheras, Cholas and Pandyas) vied for this region. He showed pictures of the archaeological findings — rare signet rings, amphorae and stamps from Rome, terracotta figures, and artefacts and coins from the Chera period.
“Excavated amphorae handles revealed that olive oil was brought to Karur from Rome,” mentioned Poongundran. And from the terracotta dolls excavated in Boluvampatti, one learnt of how the Romans wore their hair. But it was the picture of a Greek manuscript found at a museum in Alexandria that drew applause from the audience. “This document shows that a transaction was made between a Greek and a businessman from Kerala,” explained Poongundran. “Kerala and Kongunadu were under the Chera rule then. This document reveals that eight kilos of pepper were imported from the Chera land. ”
Poongundran concluded with interesting information about the Rajakesari Highway. “This highway, named after a Chola King, could be deemed the oldest in India,” he said. Parts of it still exist behind CBM College, Kovaipudur. “This was one of the most important trade routes in the country. There used to be a ‘shadow army’ to protect the traders from thieves on this highway. But look at its condition now. We have not bothered preserving this piece of heritage. History is slowly being destroyed in front of our own eyes.”